History of the Sandstone Trail Race
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The History of the Sandstone Trail Race

The Sandstone Trail is a long distance footpath which stretches 30 miles along the backbone of central Cheshire from the Shropshire border to the Mersey. It is a sort of Cheshire Way, following a meandering ridge of 300 million year old Triassic sandstone that rises dramatically from the Cheshire plain which it almost splits in two.

The race, which is run under FRA rules,follows part of this route, developed from a favourite training run of Deeside Orienteering Club. The A race starts at 10:00 and covers 17.1 miles with a total climb of 2150 feet (excluding the stiles!) made up of frequent short climbs. These are linked by level running over varied terrain. A shorter B race covers the last 10.6 miles of the longer event with 950 feet of climb. Both of these were recently lengthened, the A Race by just over half a mile and the B Race by just over a mile. A 5 mile C race lapsed in 1982.

The A race starts opposite the Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle and for the first 7 miles follows the highest sections of the ridge, climbing to the trig point at Rawhead, 746ft, where the red chiselled cliffs resemble the wild west more that Cheshire! Under the cliffs are caves such as the spectacular Queen's Parlour and the reputed former home of brigands, the aptly named Bloody Bones Cave.

The trail now follows quiet tracks and fields above the village of Burwardsley, famous for its candle factory, before dropping down through the Peckforton estate to Beeston. Peckforton Castle is a 19th century frivolity on a promontory at the ridge end. A mile further on is Beeston Castle, a 13th century stronghold on a dramatic plug of rock rising 300ft from the plain. Split times for A race runners are recorded here (7 miles) as well as there being a welcome drinks station.

The B race starts at 11:00 allowing the A race leaders a chance to get through Beeston first, with the start, since 2006, about half a mile south of the castle. This race started in 1979 as a ladies race and, initially, only prizes in that category were awarded although men did compete. Now both races are open to men and women runners.

From Beeston the merged races cross the Gowy valley in flat but often claggy conditions before embarking on a series of four longish climbs. Underfoot in the valley is permanent pasture with a rich variety of grassland which produces some of the country's finest quality milk and cheese. Here also, down a mysterious track called Gullet Lane, the trail passes a field which from 1877 to 1929 was the race course of the Tarporley Hunt, much patronised by country gentry. The site of the grandstand is now a council depot. At the road crossing at Rock Farm, five miles from the finish, split times for both races are recorded.

Until 2004 the race continued to Gresty's Waste crossing the busy A54 by two old turnpike cottages. At that time, safety concerns resulted in a re-route across fields towards Kelsall, crossing the A54 on the steep climb over Yeld Lane road bridge, turning right on a minor road to re-join the Sandstone Trail below Eddisbury Hill, then running down to Delamere Forest to finish at Barnes Bridge Car Park. Because these are one-way races, buses to the starts are provided for competitors; these leave from Barnes Bridge at 08:30 sharp for those who book a place.

Since its inception in 1977 the race has attracted a regular following around Merseyside and the Welsh borders. Anyone running the A race under two hours is likely to be a prizewinner, with good club runners finishing in around 2h 30m on a dry year. Beating one hour on the B race was a worthwhile target up until 2006, but with the additional length may now be unachievable.

Numbers are limited to 190 for each race (previously 150) and these limits are often approached before the closing date. The race atmosphere is friendly and informal but organisation is tight, assisted by an army of volunteers, St John Ambulance and the co-operation of the Cheshire Police. On the day results are available, handsome trophies are presented under the massive beech trees, and runners and helpers alike still have time for a picnic in the forest or a lunchtime pint.

 

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